Haus der Brandenburgisch-Preußischen Geschichte, Am Neuen Markt 9, 14467 Potsdam
Since the end of the 1950s the German organization Aktion Sühnezeichen has organized various activities — work stays, seminars, journeys — to place a sign of atonement for the crimes committed during the National Socialist regime. Of specific significance were projects that were conducted in Israel and Poland. The Sühnezeichen activities aimed at engaging young Germans, i.e. those who had not (or only as children) experienced the National Socialist regime, in atonement practices. The role of these young activists was also emphasized in public and political appeals for atonement and reconciliation in Germany, but also in Israel and Poland. The inclusion of young Germans turned atonement and reconciliation into an ongoing task, pursued by future generations.
The paper argues that the integration of youth was an important prerequisite for the performance and approval of atonement activities. Young people played the role of a mediator between those who had actually committed crimes and had a reason to atone, and those who were addressed through atonement and reconciliation activities. By establishing these mediators, the responsibility to perform atonement and the responsibility for a successful reconciliation was laid upon the young activists. This raises further questions: Did the focus on German youth have the effect of dispensing other parts of German society from their responsibility? When explored as part of a youth culture, what does atonement mean for the activists themselves and for those at whom atonement is directed? Were the activities of Aktion Sühnezeichen perceived as being more than mere “Sühnetourismus” (atonement tourism)? What are we to make of this pert phrase uttered by Sühnezeichen activists: “Have fun atoning”?
Christiane Wienand is a Research Fellow at University College London in the collaborative research project Reverberations of War: Communities of Experience and Identification in Germany and Europe since 1945. In her postdoctoral project she explores transnational reconciliation activities and activists in Europe and Israel after 1945. She is currently preparing her Ph.D. thesis, titled Performing Memory. Returned Germany Prisoners of War in Divided and Reunited Germany, for publication. Christiane Wienand was educated at Konstanz University and at the UCL Centre for European Studies, where she read History, Political Sciences, and Economics (Konstanz), and European Society (UCL). Her research interests cover German history in the 20th century, the history of European integration after 1945, and memory cultures in Germany and Europe.
Aleida Assmann studied English literature and Egyptology at the universities of Heidelberg und Tübingen. Since 1993 she has held the chair of English Literature and Theory at the University of Konstanz. She was a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin in 1998/1999 and a visiting professor at Rice, Princeton, and Yale Universities. Her research topics include the history of reading, writing, and print media, and the theory of cultural memory. Selected Publications: Memory in an Age of Globalisation (ed. with Sebastian Conrad, Palgrave Mamillan 2010), Memory and Political Change (ed. with Linda Shortt, forthcoming with Palgrave Macmillan 2011), Arts of Memory (forthcoming with Cambridge University Press 2011), The Long Shadow of the Past (forthcoming with Fordham 2012).